- A sack of charcoal goes for Shs 20,000 in the camp
- Most of the South Sudan refugees rely on firewood or charcoal for cooking and this has led to depletion of the natural trees which will be difficult to replace
- Briquettes are a viable and low cost alternative to environmentally damaging fuels such as firewood, kerosene and charcoal
- Imvepi settlement has about 71,000 refugees. And this has led to stretching of the available resources and the natural trees are the first to be depleted
- There is fear that if the deletion continues, the area could become a desert even when there are some interventions to re-plant trees is taking place
Arua. Every morning at 6:30 am, Ms Jesca Evalyne, 28, wakes up to start looking for firewood in the forests for preparing meals for her three children she is taking care off in the settlement camp.
In the process, she survived from snake bites several times while in the bush looking for firewood as she cannot afford to leave her children stay hungry. She returns home with some bundles of firewood while she is already tired.
Since she fled from Morobo County last year, life has not been easy because she cannot afford to buy a sack of charcoal in the camp. The firewood she gets, does not take long to burn, so the next day, she has to get to the bush again.
“Life has not been easy for me and even other women to always wake up early and set to the bush to look for firewood. Snake bites are common here when you are looking for firewood. When I realized that buying charcoal was becoming expensive and is discouraged in the camp, we decided to form a group to learn how to make briquettes,” she said.
“For Briquettes, you do not need to tender it frequently unlike firewood which takes time and hectic to tender to cook food,” she added.
A sack of charcoal goes for Shs 20,000 in the camp. South Sudanese refugees have turned to making Briquettes to replace use of firewood and charcoal in order to save the trees in the settlement camps. “We have to look for wastes like dry grass, cassava peels, in order to make the Briquettes which we have now been able to make after a short training. I want to become a champion for saving the environment in the camp,” Ms Jesca said.
Some of the South Sudanese youths making the Briquettes. Photo by Felix
The youth groups at Imvepi settlement in Arua district, are being supported by OXFAM Uganda. In the camp, most areas have remained bare as a result of depletion of the natural forests for firewood, charcoal and poles for construction of temporary shelters.
“We sell the small size Briquettes at Shs 1000, 2000 and 5000. The money we get from it is saved and some we use for buying food, clothes and pay medical bills,” she added.
UNHCR 1996 Environmental Guidelines indicate that refugee activities such as uncontrolled fuelwood collection, poaching, and over-use of limited water supplies, add pressure to ecosystems in many regions, including some unique areas set aside by local governments as parks, reserves or even World Heritage Sites.
In the worst case, these activities, if allowed to continue, could result in irreversible losses of productivity, the extinction of plant or animal species, the destruction of unique ecosystems, the depletion or long-term pollution of ground water supplies, or a variety of other destructive outcomes.
The youth make the biomass out of cow dung, clay soil, grass and dry leaves which is easy to get in the camp. The charcoal business is done by both the locals and refugees.
Another youth member in Village 3 in Rhino camp, Mr Bosco Mawa, 20, said: “Our challenge remains about marketing because we want to make more because we have the machines for making them. Firewood and charcoal is expensive to get. It I also help us to get income and makes cooking easy. It has also stopped me from playing cards all the time because I find economic opportunities and so I spend my time making Briquettes,” Mawa said.
Part of the natural tree that has been cut ready for firewood and charcoal at Imvepi settlement. Photo by Felix.
The group that has started making Briquettes in March this year, have now produced about 1,000 Briquettes that are ready for sale.
Public Health Promotion Team Leader for OXFAM, Mr Rashid Mawejje, said: “We chose to recycle solid wastes into Briquettes to conserve environment and switch from charcoal burning because it is environmental user friendly. And we also want to transform solid wastes to good use. We spend about Shs 60 million to support five groups with Briquette making machines, training and protective gears.”
Mawejje said this would enable the groups generate income from both the Briquettes and Energy saving stoves. The refugee group is also making clay stoves that are now highly encouraged by the Environmentalists.
Briquettes are a source of fuel made by solidifying biomass waste products, such as sawdust, coffee husks. And one can earn over Shs 200,000 from monthly sales.
Recently, the district environment officer, Mr Joachim Andiandu, said the technology of making Briquettes by various groups will give a relief to the already depleted forests in the district. “We have tempered with our trees to the extent that we do not have fire wood for cooking and the only available charcoal is very expensive which you cannot afford. This will help reduce depletion once locals embrace the technology,” Andiandu said.
In 2010 the district passed a food and nutrition ordinance which also seeks to regulate the rampant cutting down of trees. But the law has remained without implementation since some of the leaders to enforce the law are also involved heavily in the charcoal business as a source of income generating activity.
What are Briquettes?
Briquettes are a viable and low cost alternative to environmentally damaging fuels such as firewood, kerosene and charcoal. They are similar in appearance to regular charcoal but they are made out of charcoal waste, agricultural residues or sawdust, which are normally considered unusable waste.
Why Briquettes. The case for promoting a widespread use of briquettes is a strong one: the current use of charcoal and firewood is contributing to wide-scale deforestation in many developing countries. The cost of charcoal is also increasing.